Comparing 100 meter Freestyle and 400 meter Sprinting

The 100 meter freestyle in swimming resembles the 400 sprint in running.

Their Elite times are in the mid 40’s second range and both events have similar energy systems: Alactic anerobic and Lactic anerobic.

Between 1968 and 2004, only 7 men has run under the magic 44 seconds barrier for the 400 meters (and two of them were at altitude!). Since then, two new stars, namely Jeremy Warnier and Lashawn Merritt were added to that exclusive list. That makes a total of NINE since 1968.

The 100m freestyle record first went under 48 seconds in 2000. For the next eight years, 48 seconds was the magical “barrier” which only one man could break. Remember Peter van den Hoogenband of Holland? His 100 m world record stood until March 21, 2008 and was broken by France’s Alain Bernard’s 47.60 performance. Since then, ELEVEN men have swam 47 point.

The current World record for the 100 meter freestyle is Eamon Sullivan of Australia with a 47.05 from the 2008 Beijing Olympics. I’ll bet we’ll see a 46.9 pretty soon.

In fact, Jason Lezak of the USA swam a “come from behind” 46.06 relay leg to win the 4x100m Gold at Beijing.

Why the sudden change? New improved LZR speed suits? Resistance stretching? Perhaps they should put an asterisk * next to a swimming world record that was performed in a speed suit as a known advantage, just like sprinters have an asterisk * for performances at Altitude! Or Barry Bonds’ single season home run record.

It wouldn’t surprise me if the 100 meter freestyle is faster than the 400 sprint in the next 10 years.

As I was going to St-Ives

How many ways can you do an event? In able-bodied track, we have two: running and walking. Some may even dispute race walking belonging in Track and Field, but I’ll save that rant for another article.

In wrestling, you have two: freestyle and greco-roman.

In cross country skiing, you have two: freestyle and classic (with the sticky wax under the chamber).

In swimming, you have FOUR ways to cover the same distance: freestyle, breast stroke, butterfly and backstroke.

Plus swimming has all the different relays. Usain Bolt could never win 8 gold medals in the same Olympiad, unless you add a 4x50m, 4x200m, 4×100 medley with race walkers and backwards running, a 200 Individual Medley “IM”, and a 50 meter “splash and dash”.

Don’t get me wrong: Michael Phelps feat was truly superhuman, just like Mark Spitz’s seven gold medals in 1972.

But we all can agree on one thing. The relays are one of the most exciting events in sports! Even the 4x10km cross country is my favorite event next to bobsled and hockey.

Jimson Lee

Jimson Lee

Coach & Founder at
I am a Masters Athlete and Coach currently based in London UK. My other projects include the Bud Winter Foundation, writer for the IAAF New Studies in Athletics Journal (NSA) and a member of the Track & Field Writers of America.
Jimson Lee
Jimson Lee
Jimson Lee
  • The technological impact on swimming is obviously sending swimmers through the pool at a much faster clip.

    I think we will see more runner dip under 45-seconds in the 400-meters over the next decade. Mostly from the spreading of training info and exercise physiology improvements in the sport.

    How fast do you think a human can cover 400-meters?

    Jay Hicks

  • @Jay,

    Take Usain Bolt’s 19.30 doubled plus 3.5 seconds. We are looking at 42.1. Incredible if he takes up the event “seriously” like he did for the 100 meters.

  • I like swimming.Thanks for providing useful information on swimming and I appreciate the way of presenting the article.

  • Jimson, If Usain ever gets serious about the quarter, you might just see that sub 43, but chances are he will stick with the “easier” workouts of 100/200. Jamaicans are lazy…;-))